On Saturday, Lionel Messi might make his comeback to action in Major League Soccer, with the Argentine aiming to give Inter Miami’s fading playoff ambitions a boost. Messi’s return would be timely, as Inter Miami’s chances of making the playoffs have dwindled.
Since his return from international duty with Argentina a month ago, Messi has been sidelined with an injury and has only been able to play 37 minutes for his club since September 3.
His absence has been keenly felt by Miami, as shown by the fact that they have failed to win any of their last three league games and were defeated by Houston in the US Open Cup final.
On Wednesday, Miami was defeated by Chicago by a score of 4-1 without the seven-time winner of the Ballon d’Or. However, the following day, he was nominated to Argentina’s roster for their next World Cup qualifying matches in South America.
That led to rumours that he would be in the running to take on Cincinnati, which is now leading the Eastern Conference, on Saturday, and those rumours continued to gain momentum as he trained on Thursday and Friday.
However, in line with the club’s strategy during the whole ordeal with Messi’s injury, assistant coach Javier Morales did not provide any hints as to whether Messi would start or not.
“There isn’t much of a change. We are going to have to judge him on a daily basis. He trained the day before, and he will train again today; after that, we will undoubtedly come to a conclusion. However, he is making progress each and every day,” he said to the press.
Messi’s presence on the pitch is absolutely necessary for Miami to have any shot at realising their currently improbable objective of extending their regular season into the postseason.
With three games left to play, the team coached by Gerardo Martino is now sitting in last position in the Eastern Conference, five points behind of the last playoff slot in ninth place.
Despite the fact that Miami has at least one game up on all of their competitors for that slot except for one of them, the Heat’s fate is no longer in their own hands, and they must rely on the outcomes of other games to go in their favour.
The Cincinnati Crew are now the greatest team in Major League Soccer (MLS), since they have already been awarded the Supporters’ Shield for having the best record during the regular season. This achievement earned them the number one seed in the playoffs as well as the opportunity to play all of their games at their home pitch.
They were able to accomplish their goal, therefore they benched numerous important players for Wednesday’s match against New York Red Bulls, which resulted in a 2-1 loss at home for them.
But since there is an upcoming break for international play, Head Coach Pat Noonan will have to decide whether or not to bring back his starting players for the game in Fort Lauderdale.
“You have to… take what’s in the best interest of the individual player and their health so that we can go through the stretch with as many healthy bodies as possible,” he told reporters after the Red Bulls victory.
The majority of Major League Soccer clubs will play their last game of the regular season on Saturday. There are still a few slots in the postseason that have not been determined, and finishing in the top four to earn the right to play the first round of the playoffs at home is another important consideration.
There are still two seats available in the East, while three are still up for grabs in the West.
This year’s format calls for the eighth-placed club in each conference to play host to a single wildcard match against the ninth-placed team in that conference.
The victors will then go on to the first round, which will consist of best-of-three series. The first and, if necessary, the third games will be played at the home fields of the top four clubs in the standings.
After that, each of the conference semifinals, finals, and the MLS Cup itself are played as a single game.